Although the concept of food naturalness does not always symbolize good quality and may not necessarily promote food security, Natural foods are widely perceived to be healthier and of better quality. In support of the latter statement, Nielsen’s 2015 Global Health & Wellness Survey suggests consumer mindset about healthy foods has shifted as they prefer products that claim to boost health, products deemed all natural [1].  With this perception, distinctions between Natural and Non-natural foods is of central importance and has become a major subject of controversy of recent times. Nevertheless, the questions of concern are what indicators determine the naturalness of food and does naturalness of food really mean good quality?

According to the Food Standards Agency, “Natural foods” mean essentially that the product is comprised of natural ingredients, e.g. ingredients produced by nature, not the work of man or interfered with by man. This is a very broad subject as it ranges from the way the food is grown, processed, its nutritional content, and cultural, social and religious influential factors. This article focuses on types of food preservatives as indicators of food naturalness and how they determine the quality of food (which in this case focuses on the health aspect of food quality). Precisely, this article argues that Natural food preservatives (which makes food more natural considering the above definition of natural foods) make foods more secure in terms of good quality, compared to Artificial food preservatives.

The search for methods of food preservation probably can be traced to the dawn of human civilization in efforts to prevent food spoilage [2]. The need for food preservation further extends to preserving the natural characteristics and appearance of food, and increasing the shelf value of food for storage. Food preservatives are broadly classified into two groups which are Natural and Artificial preservatives [3]. Common Natural preservatives include Salt, Sugar, Vinegar and Alcohol while Artificial preservatives include sodium benzoate and Butylated hydroxytoluene. According to an article written for the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s almost impossible to eat food without preservatives added by manufacturers, unless you eat exclusively fresh food that you cook yourself.

Revisiting the core argument of this article, recent investigations show that big part of the Artificial preservatives such as sodium benzoate, sodium nitrite, sulphur dioxide, potassium sorbate etc. can cause serious health hazards ranging from mere Headaches to Cancer [4]. Well, this is just a glimpse of associated health hazards as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the FDA is not ensuring the safety of many Artificial preservatives – perhaps that’s reason enough to think twice about eating them. It is therefore advisable to read the list of ingredients on your food package, but there is a big problem with this; the labeling doesn’t really say ‘artificial preservatives with health hazards’. Well here is a tip, if you can’t pronounce something, chances are good it is a chemical preservative, I mean stuff like ‘ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid’. Based on review of the literature, this is what you should know about some artificial preservatives found in your food.


Source: Propyl Gallate Antioxidant

Propyl Gallate: Denoted as E310, this artificial preservative has antioxidant properties,. It is usually found in meat products, microwaveable popcorn, soup bases, chewing gum, cereals, and some foods containing oil and fats. Side effects of consumption include stomach and skin irritability, allergic reactions that impact breathing, and kidney and liver damage [5].


Source: EatRightOntario

Sulphites: These are chemicals that preserve foods by inhibiting growth of bacteria, fungi and molds. Sulphites are usually found in canned foods, dried fruits and wine. This chemical has been associated with headaches, Irritable Bowel symptoms and Rhinitis but its best known for its effects on Asthmatics [6]


Source: Dr. Axe, Food is Medicine

Propylene Glycol and Carboxymethylcellulose: To all the Ice-cream lovers, you are probably ingesting same chemicals used as antifreeze and paint removers. They are also used in preserving salad dressing, cheese spread, and chocolate milk. Researches on rats have shown correlations between development of tumors and Carboxymethylcellulose while Propylene Glycol is associated with CNS Depression [7].



Source: B4tea; Healthy lifestyle

Brominated vegetable oils (BVO): Considering how we all like to take bottled fruit juice or soda, some of these contain Brominated oils that help preserve them and increase their shelf life. However, countries like Canada, Holland, and Germany have banned this preservative due to the toxic Bromine it contains which is an endocrine disruptor that leads to iodine deficiency [8].

The list of artificial preservatives and their side effects go on and on, for more on this, visit International Journal Of Pharmaceutical Sciences And Research. On the other hand, natural preservatives offer greater advantages due to their non-toxic nature along with a wide range of health benefits [9].

Natural Preservatives Mechanisms of preservation Health Benefits
Himalayan Salt Absorbs water in food to prevent microorganisms from growing Promote healthy pH balance and blood sugar health
Cloves Contains high amounts of phenolic compounds, which have antioxidant properties Aid in digestion, boosts the immune system, controls diabetes
Rosemary Extract it contains carnosic and rosmaranic acid, which are antioxidants that prevent decay. Boost mental activity, relieve respiratory problems
Lemon Juice Contains vitamin C which is a powerful antioxidant that prevents food from spoiling protects against immune system deficiencies
Basil Extract It has significant inhibitory activity against major pathogens and spoilage microrganisms


Ease inflammation and joint pain.
Vinegar Contains high amount of acetic acid which kills microbes lowers blood sugar levels
Oregano it has antibacterial and antifungal properties that can be used to preserve meat Treats menstrual cramps, and urinary tract disorders
Garlic It is a potent anti-viral food that’s incredibly well at fighting bacteria helps to lower cholesterol levels

Source: [10] [11] [12] [13] [14]

With this point being made, it is safe to conclude that there is a huge relationship between food naturalness and quality in terms of food preservatives used. Foods with natural preservatives are of better quality because they promote health compared to those with artificial preservatives. Now that you know about the harmful effects of food preservatives and their names, remember to check those ingredients carefully when you do shop for processed food. Alternatively, stick to all natural foods by buying fresh foods and preserving them at home.